tv The Battle of Midway and John Ford CSPAN December 31, 2014 9:20am-9:52am EST
new york city on american history tv. thanks very much for being with us. >> thank you. you've been watching a special presentation of our "reel america" series. join us every sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern for more archival films by government industry and educational institutions. watch as these films take you on a journey through the 20th century. that's "reel america" eferlvery sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv. we'd like to tell you about our "lectures in history" series. join untser students at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern to hear lectures on topics that range from the american revolution to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "lectures in history" every saturday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern on american history tv. we'd like to hear from you. follow us on twitter @c-spanhistory. and check out our upcoming programs at our website, c-span
cspan.org cspan.org/history. each week american history tv's "reel america" brings you archival films that help tell the story of the 20th century. in the third of a five-part look at hollywood directors who made films for the u.s. government during world war ii we feature director john ford and the 18-minute documentary he made for the u.s. navy about the june 1942 battle of midway. the film presented a victory in vivid color to an american public eager for some good news in the year following pearl harbor. but, first we speak with author mark harris about john ford. >> in his book "five came back," author mark harris focusing on the story of hollywood and the second world war and five leading directors at the time, including john ford who served in the u.s. navy during world war ii. mark harris thanks very much for being with us. >> thanks for having me. >> what can you tell us about
the work of john ford? >> well, ford was one of the most respected directors in hollywood, probably the most respected director before the war. between 1939 and 1941 he went on kind of an unmatched tear in hollywood making "the grapes of wrath," "how green was my valley," "stagecoach," "drums along the mohawk," just a set of movie that is gave him the reputation as one of the most intelligent and serious minded directors. he was also the most prescient of the five directors i write about in realizing war was inevitable inevitable. three months before pearl harbor, ford was already in uniform. he felt war was coming, and he also understood hollywood really
needed to be prepared. he had gotten the navy to agree almost a year before the war to let him create something that came to be known as the field photo unit. it was a sort of -- intended as an auxiliary in which he recruited cameramen and soundmen and film editors from hollywood studios who would spend their weekends and nights training to do things like develop film on a listing ship and, you know shoot film under wartime conditions. you know, in some ways it was kind of a lark. ford really loved ceremony and military procedure and dress up, but this unit became absolutely crucial during the war when it was called into action to shoot documentaries. >> two of the most significant events, d-day where john ford witnessed the events unfold on
omaha beach, and the battle of midway in which he was wounded, correct? >> yes. the battle of midway was the first time that a major american filmmaker was there to film an engagement. it was the middle of 1942. the war in europe was not obviously happening yet as far as the u.s. was concerned, so all of the news all of the concentration, all of the effort was spent in the pacific trying to hold off the japanese in various places while the navy attempted to rebuild its fleet to full strength after the daniel done by pearl harbor. and most of the news in the six months after pearl harbor that had come out of the war was not good for the u.s. there weren't a lot of victories being tallied in the newspapers.
there was a lot of valor in terms of allies holding the line for a very, very long time before, you know, bataan, you know, or the philippines fell, but midway was the first point at which we won a successful major engagement, and ford was there. he had been put aboard a ship from hawaii and taken to midway without knowing that a battle was coming. he said later that he assumed that he was there to make a documentary about life at a remote naval outpost and instead when he got there, he learned a japanese attack was imminent and that the u.s. was prepared. so on the morning of midway, he was stationed on the roof of a power powerhouse with a camera and a
couple of men from his unit who also had cameras. perfectly positioned to capture incoming japanese and he was alternating shooting footage and being on the phone to the naval officers below just telling them what he was seeing, and he shot until a piece of shrapnel hit him on the arm and knocked the film and its camera out of its sprockets and, you know, he was the first hollywood filmmaker to be wounded in action. >> and we're going to see his work, part of an 18-minute film titled the battle of midway but mark harharris, for our audience watching in just a minute, what should they look for? >> well, it's impossible to overstate the impact that this movie had. by the end of its run because it's a short movie, it didn't
show instead of hollywood features. it showed in addition to them. by the end of its run, it had played in three-quarters of all the movies in the united states. what you should look for in this movie is, first of all, the fact it was made in color. we take that for granted now, but it was shocking and unprecedented for audiences then to see real events like this in color. the color had been reserved for fantasies like "the wizard of oz" or historical epics like "gone with the wind" or, you know, fashion shows or lavish musicals. black and white was considered oddly, as it may sound, more realistic. so this was one of the first examples of color realism. also, if you listen to the movie, you'll hear there are four off-camera voices. he has a really interesting technique of kind of alternating narration and commentary and
two of the voices you will hear, which are sort of a surrogate elderly woman and youngs man, maybe her son who are sitting in the audience those are voices of henry fonda and jane ford had used in "the grapes of wrath." it's pure, raw footage, especially in the middle of the movie when the narration drops away and the battle begins. >> mark harris thanks for being with us and from 1942 with director john ford, this 18-minute film titled "the battle of midway." ♪
>> that's young will. he's from my hometown, springfield, ohio. he's not going to fly that great big bomber. >> yes ma'am that's his job. he's a skipper. >> will's dad is an engineer. 38 years on the old ironton railroad. and his mother she's just like the rest of us mothers in springfield or any other american town. and his sister, patricia she's about as pretty as they come. jo >> i'll say so. >> good luck. god bless you, son.
survivors. every tiny coral reef, every distant mile of sea. search for men who fought to the last round of ammunition and flew to the last drop of gas and then crashed into the sea. eight days, nine days ten days without food or water. >> his first cigarette. that first drag sure tastes good. >> 11 days. >> well done. >> logan ramsey. >> frank bessler.
that's 13 for frank. ♪ >> get those boys to the hospital. please do, quickly. get them some clean cots and cool sheets. get them doctors and medicine, a nurse's soft hands. get them to the hospital. hurry, please. >> there was a hospital clean orderly, 100 beds. and on its roof the red cross plainly marked. the symbol of mercy the enemy
was bound to respect. >> the next morning divine services were held beside a bomb crater that had once been a chapel. at even tide we buried our heroic dead, the last salute from their comrades and their officers. ♪ of thee i sing ♪ ♪ land where my fathers died ♪ ♪ land of the pilgrims' pride ♪ >> captain sinad of the navy. colonel shannon. >> major roosevelt.
how did john ford view his service in the u.s. navy? >> ford was really proud of his service. he was the oldest of the five directors i write about. in fact, he became a grandfather during the war. he had been old enough to serve in the first world war, although he didn't. so for ford i think the war was a proving ground. he really wanted to test his courage, and although he was, you know, at least once directly in the line of fire i'm not sure that ford ever believed that he was courageous. in fact, at one point he said, all i know is that i'm not a brave man, that i'm a coward. that was after he had been at d-day. so ford was really proud that he had served, and, in fact, when he completed his sort of decommissioning papers he said he would do it again if called
upon. one of the things ford did right after the war was start a place called the farm, which was sort of a combination rest home, clubhouse, barroom, getaway for the men in his field photo unit and it was a place that he decorated with, you know, every medal and recognition that he had ever won during the war. that was something he was really obsessed with, but it was a huge part of his identity and he kept it in operation for almost 25 years after the war. >> i just wanted to ask you about his work and how it now lives on in the films he put together. just how important was it to the allied efforts and to the american people who saw these films in the 1940s? >> ford's war work was tremendously important. i mean, especially "the battle
of midway" which was really the first visual evidence that home front movie going audiences had that the u.s. could win this thing. it was the first really good news that movie theaters brought about the war, and also i think beyond any one movie that he put on screen, ford will always have a place in the history of world war ii filmmaking efforts because he was the first of anyone, whether in hollywood or the war department to realize and believe and act on the conviction that there should be a wartime filmmaking effort. he understood that it was going to be absolutely essential to document this war and that film, which at the time we should really remember was -- sound film was only 10 or 12 years old. it was newer to americans by far than the internet is to us
today. ford really understood this fledgling medium would play an absolutely critical part in american perceptions of the war effort. >> the bock came out earlier this year "five came back: hollywood and the second world war. among the directors featured by author mark harris is george stevens and john ford, john houston, william wyler and frank capra. thank you very much for being with us. >> thanks for having me. >> you've been watching a special presentation of our reel america series. join us every sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern for more archival films by government industry, and educational institutions. watch as these films take you on a journey through the 20th century. that's reel america every sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv on c-span3. we'd like to tell you about some of our other american history programs. join us every sunday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern for a special look at the presidency. learn from leading historians
about presidents and first ladies, their policies and legacies. and hear directly from our chief executives through historic archival speeches. every sunday at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern here on american history tv. we'd like to hear from you. follow us on twitter @c-span history. connect on facebook at facebook.com/cspan history where you can leave comments and check out our upcoming programs at our website, c-span.org/history. ♪ in the fourth of a five-part look at hollywood directors who made films for the u.s. government during world war ii we feature director william wyler and "thunderbolt," a 42-minute documentary he made for the u.s. army air force about a squadron of p-47 fighter planes stationed in italy. mr. wyler also directed the